by Holly McDavid
“I just have to remind myself that the conversation is happening and that I’m a part of something that will be very, very revolutionary.” This quote from Lashana Lynch’s interview with Harper Bazaar, has been seen as confirmation that she will play the first female black lesbian 007 agent in the 25th James Bond film, No Time To Die (dir. Cary Joji-Fukunage, 2021). Though the sexuality of her character, Nomi, has yet to be confirmed due to the film’s delayed release, it encourages us to look back at earlier examples of lesbian representation in the Bond franchise.
To select an example of lesbian representation in the Bond canon, Ian Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger (1959), and its film adaption, (dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964) is apt. The plot features Sean Connery as James Bond, Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore and Tania Mallet as Tilly Masterson. Pussy and Tilly are both lesbian characters. However how their storylines develop proves problematic for the type of representation it offers. The fate of these two characters in both novel and film ultimately panders to the ‘straight gaze’ and contributes to the subtle but firm stigmatisation of lesbians. Vicki Eaklor identifies ‘the straight gaze’ as the way in which the public is perceived and described as exclusively straight (Eaklor, 1994, 325). This theoretical ‘straight’ public influenced how Pussy and Tilly were created and presented. The straight gaze is rife, in both film and novel, and demonstrates how inclusion does not always equate to positive representation in popular culture.
In 1959, shortly after Goldfinger’s publication, Ian Fleming replied to a letter, stating that ‘Pussy only needed the right man to come along and perform the laying on of hands in order to cure her psycho-pathological malady’. Pussy Galore in both film and book is consistently defined in relation to the men around her. Her sexuality is both created and cured by men: she explains her homosexuality to Bond as the result of being raped by an uncle, and it is Bond, paradigm of masculinity, who can cure this malady with some ‘TLC’(Fleming, 1959, 371). Though the film retains Pussy’s homosexuality, it is done through vague hints in her lines to Bond such as: ‘You can turn off the charm – I’m immune’ and her later protests against Bond’s advances ‘Skipper I’m not interested’. It is palatable to straight audiences for Pussy to express these sentiments, at a time when homosexuality was still seen as a threat to societal norms, because in her 15 minutes of screen time, Bond succeeds in his seduction and therefore converts her on screen.
The plot of Goldfinger itself further demonises homosexuality by aligning ‘lesbian’ Pussy with Auric Goldfinger, the gold-obsessed villain determined to blow up Fort Knox, and aligns ‘straight’ Pussy with Bond, the hero who represents the ‘good’ side. Pussy’s survival is due to this crucial conversion; she is rewarded for her conformity to the expected gender norms. Through her new-found heterosexuality and shift in allegiance, Pussy is no longer viewed as a threat to society either as a lesbian or an accomplice of Goldfinger. Examining Fleming’s letter, we see that any possibility for a bisexual Pussy Galore is unrealistic – with Fleming’s preference to use heterosexuality versus homosexuality as a trope to represent good versus evil.
In contrast, Tilly is never cured of her ‘psycho-pathological malady’. Tilly seeks revenge for the death of her sister Jill – one of Bond’s conquests – who is killed by Goldfinger. In the novel she has a larger role, and is held captive with Bond and demonstrates her preference for Pussy’s company to that of Bond. Bond detects the snub and ‘came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterton was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up’ and goes on to insult sex equality and ‘pansies’(Fleming, 313).
Tilly’s death, and the difference between how it is portrayed in the novel versus the film, demonstrate Fleming’s punishment of lesbianism, and the film’s straightwashing of Tilly. In the novel, Tilly and Bond are running from Oddjob and Tilly breaks from Bond and says: ‘Stop! I want to stay close to Pussy. I’ll be safe with her’(Fleming, 337). Ultimately Tilly is unable to escape and is killed. Afterwards, Bond states: ‘“Poor little bitch. She didn’t think much of men.” He looked defensively at Leiter. “Felix, I could have got her away if she’d only followed me”’(Fleming, 341). Bond’s reminder to the reader of Tilly’s sexuality and the responsibility Bond places on himself, serve to show the reader that Tilly has subverted Bond’s ability to accomplish his expected masculine duty: to both protect and attract her. Tilly is punished for this subversion by death. It is implied that if she had been converted to heterosexuality like Pussy, and stayed with Bond – she would have survived.
Although in the film, she dies in the same manner (running from Oddjob), she is running on Bond’s orders to hide in the bushes. A small change, but one that represents the straightwashing of Tilly’s character. In cutting down her role, the film eliminates the attachment Tilly develops for Pussy (they never meet) and replaces it with attachment to Bond. Though they never kiss, there are more subtle enjoyments from Tilly in his company and she obeys his command. Although she still dies, her death is not because of her sexuality, because her true sexuality has been completely edited out of the film. This ensures Bond’s sexual prowess stays firmly intact, he has not been rejected, – could he have slept with Tilly if only she’d lived? – and to focus the film’s gaze on Pussy, the preferred lesbian, in that she isn’t one for long.
Ultimately, lesbians are not new to the Bond franchise. But Tilly and Pussy’s characters suffer from the straight gaze – by the end of the film one is dead and the other converted. I doubt I am alone in hoping that No Time To Die delivers more for representation than its predecessors and sets the tone for the future relationship between Bond and homosexuality.
Burgess, Susan, ‘Gender and Sexuality Politics in the James Bond Film Series: Cultural Origins of Gay Inclusion in the U.S Military’, Polity, Vol. 47, No. 2, (2015), 225-248.
Eaklor, Vicki L., “Seeing” Lesbians in Film and History’, Historical Reflections, Vol. 20, No. 2, (1994), 321-333.
Fleming, Ian, Goldfinger, (London: Penguin, 2012).
Ladenson, Elisabeth, ‘Lovely Lesbians; or, Pussy Galore’, GLQ: A journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, (2001), 417-423.
Goldfinger. Dir. Guy Hamilton. Eon Productions. 1964. Film.